Sunday Night Special: General Tso’s Chicken
Ok, this isn’t technically a Sunday Night Special, but I didn’t cook on the day of rest because I had a huge late lunch at Pio Pio. Tonight I made what I would’ve wanted to cook on Sunday night if I'd been hungrier.
I’m sure I’m not the first to discover what a deal Amazon’s free super saver shipping is. You’re entitled if you spend over $25 and they warn that it will take 5-9 days just to scare you off but it never takes that long. Just Sunday I ordered Fuchsia Dunlop’s brand new Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province (as well as Memories of Philippine Kitchens and Nueva York: The Complete Guide to Latino Life in the Five Boroughs [I'm trying to learn more about the Bronx]). I was inspired after killing time in the airport the day before, reading her recent General Tso’s chicken article off a handheld device from a copyright violating website. I couldn't believe that an Amazon box was sitting in the hall when I left for work this morning. Very impressive.
I must not get out much because I’d never heard of this popular chicken dish referred to anything other than Tso’s or possibly Tsao’s, and I grew up in a city completely lacking in authentic Chinese food. This Gau’s and George’s business is nuts (but then, I’ve also heard that you can get white bread with Chinese take out in Boston)
I’m all about the dark meat, despite always having a stash of listless Costco chicken breasts in the freezer. Thighs are so much tastier, so I followed this suggestion in the recipe. Unfortunately, we didn’t scrutinize the cooking instructions before shopping on Sunday afternoon and only picked up a pack of three thighs. To make up the difference, I tossed in a sliced chicken breast. There was no contest between the two cuts. Funny that General Tso has recently prompted a light vs. dark discussion elsewhere.
The only thing we had to pick up was potato flour and some gai lan as a side (I realize American broccoli would’ve been truer to take out form). Loosely based on a water spinach recipe in the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, I stir-fried garlic, black beans and sliced red chile, then added the broccoli and covered for a few minutes to steam. I finished the dish with a splash of rice vinegar and a drizzle of sesame oil.
This Hunan by way of Taiwan recipe isn’t sweet as typical General Tso’s is, and that’s fine by me. (I just noticed that the recipe floating around on the internet is a copy of what was in The Times and has been edited differently than what's in the book. ) There is a Changsha version on the following page of the cookbook that looks nearly the same yet uses white sugar, more ginger and no garlic. I stuck with the more savory approach even though I will admit to enjoying the crispy, candied, hyper-battered, American-Chinese meat chunks. Lightly sauced, velvety slices of moderately spiced chicken aren’t so bad either.
General Tso’s Chicken (Taiwan Version)
Zuo Zong Tang Ji
4 boned chicken thighs with skin (about 12 oz. total)
6-10 dried red chiles
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp. sesame oil
Peanut oil for deep-frying
For the marinade:
2 tsp. light soy sauce
½ tsp. dark soy sauce
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. potato flour
2 tsp. peanut oil
For the sauce:
1 tbsp. double-concentrate tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp. water
½ tsp. potato flour
½ tsp. dark soy sauce
1 ½ tsp. light soy sauce
1 tbsp. clear rice vinegar
3 tbsp. stock or water
Thinly sliced scallion greens to garnish
1. Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. To prepare the chicken, unfold the chicken thighs and lay them on a cutting board. Remove as much of the sinew as possible. (If some parts are very thick, cut them in half horizontally.) Slice a few shallow crosshatches into the meat. Cut each thigh into roughly 1/4 -inch slices and place in a large bowl. Add the soy sauces and egg yolk and mix well. Stir in the potato flour and 2 teaspoons peanut oil and set aside. Using scissors, snip the chilies into 3/4 -inch pieces, discarding the seeds. Set aside.
3. Pour 3 1/2 cups peanut oil into a large wok, or enough oil to rise 1 1/2 inches from the bottom. Set over high heat until the oil reaches 350 to 400 degrees. Add half the chicken and fry until crisp and deep gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat with the second batch. Pour the oil into a heatproof container and wipe the wok clean.
4. Place the wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When hot, add the chilies and stir-fry for a few seconds, until they just start to change color. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds longer, until fragrant. Add the sauce, stirring as it thickens. Return the chicken to the wok and stir vigorously to coat. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and top with scallions.
Serves 2 to 3
Adapted from “The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” by Fuchsia Dunlop. W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.